Break out the orange slices. The Broncos chalked up their second-straight moral victory of the season on Sunday, falling 26-21 to the Steelers, a performance that will have the excuse makers out in full force.
Last week, that crew spun Denver’s 16-14 loss to Tennessee as a good performance against a team that was in the AFC title game a year ago. This time around, it’ll be going on the road, losing their quarterback for most of the game and still having a chance to win in the fourth quarter as the positive outlook.
To some extent, these statements are true. The Broncos did take a Titans team that was one win from the Super Bowl last season to the brink in the opener. And they did battle until the end against a Pittsburgh team that boasts one of the league’s best defenses and a future Hall of Fame quarterback until the final moments.
And they did it despite enduring a ton of injuries. Prior to last week, Denver lost Von Miller for the season and were without Courtland Sutton for the game. During the loss to the Titans, the Broncos saw A.J. Bouye and Phillip Lindsay leave with injuries. Against the Steelers, it was Drew Lock who was added to the growing list of walking wounded.
But here’s the thing: No one cares. There’s no pity in the NFL. Every team is dealing with its own dose of adversity. Players are dropping like flies around the league.
So it’s disingenuous to act as though the Broncos are somehow cursed. It’s inaccurate to suggest that Denver is having to deal with more than other teams.
Good teams find a way to still compete, no matter what cards they’re dealt. Bad teams fold when they lose a key player or two.
And despite the close scores, that’s what the Broncos have done the past two weeks. With the game on the line, they wilted.
Against the Titans, it was an offense that couldn’t get a first down in back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter and a defense that once again surrendered a late-game drive for a winning score. Yesterday, it was turning the ball over on downs in the final moments of the game, despite facing a third-and-two at Pittsburgh’s 15-yard line, and a defense that couldn’t stop the Steelers in the waning moments even though everyone knew that running plays were coming.
Are those results because of injuries? Absolutely not.
Jerry Jeudy could’ve caught a pass that hit him right in the hands to help ice the game against Tennessee. And given that a defense that included Miller last season surrendered three game-winning drives in the final minute of games, there’s no evidence that the pass rusher would’ve slowed down Ryan Tannehill’s late drive.
Jeff Driskel missed open receivers who would’ve had an easy first down and kept the chains moving, but the backup isn’t alone in that mistake; last week, Lock did the same thing in a goal line situation. And it’s unlikely that Miller or Bouye would’ve made the key stop against James Conner to get the ball back one more time.
So blaming injuries for the Broncos being 0-2 is a convenient excuse. It’s giving Vic Fangio and company a free pass.
Has the head coach managed to make his team competitive? Sure. But that isn’t the goal. Teams don’t get partial wins for keeping the score close.
It’s telling that this is suddenly respectable in Broncos Country. Yesterday, social media was full of members of the press and fans giving Denver kudos for not getting blown out in Pittsburgh.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. For a franchise that has been to eight Super Bowls and won three Lombardi Trophies, it’s shocking that keeping it close is suddenly acceptable. It’s amazing that this is now somehow seen as a positive.
That certainly wasn’t the standard even two seasons ago.
When Vance Joseph was trying to win games with Case Keenum at quarterback, he didn’t get any points for knocking on the door. He didn’t get credited with wins for keeping it close in two games against the Chiefs and only losing to the eventual NFC champion Rams by a field goal.
VJ also didn’t get any benefit of the doubt when the Broncos suffered devastating injuries at the end of the season. Denver had scratched and clawed their way back to 6-6 and into playoff contention, only to fall in their last four games after losing Chris Harris Jr. and Emmanuel Sanders in the span of four days.
The former head coach was also roundly criticized for his team playing sloppy football. When the Broncos committed silly penalties and bungled things on special teams, it was Joseph who felt the heat.
But when Denver has turnovers erased by yellow flags, fields punts inside the five-yard line, runs kickoffs out from their own end zone and surrenders a safety when the punter drops a snap, Fangio doesn’t catch any grief. Apparently, those injuries to Miller, Lock, Sutton and Bouye erase the head coach from any and all responsibility.
What a joke. That shouldn’t fly in the Mile High City. And it didn’t use to.
Save the orange slices for Cleveland, Cincinnati, Jacksonville and Tennessee. Those places don’t know what it feels like to win it all.
In Denver, the “Good job, good effort” kid doesn’t exist. There should be no moral victories in Broncos Country.
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